Thursday, October 23, 2008

Judge decides to keep hearing church case

More on the Bennison Moyer feud in Philadelphia.

Midway through a civil trial in which a priest is suing the Episcopal bishop who defrocked him, the judge hearing the unusual case suggested yesterday that the dispute might belong in a church court, and he appeared close to throwing it out of Montgomery County Court.
The Rev. David Moyer, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, alleges that Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., suspended head of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, "fraudulently" removed him from the priesthood six years ago without a hearing before diocesan officials. Moyer seeks unspecified damages for loss of employment and mental suffering.

The case could establish a legal precedent allowing clergy in hierarchical religious institutions to sue their superiors in civil court. American courts have a long tradition of not intervening in churches' internal affairs.

Judge Joseph Smyth said the case, already in its third day, raised "important" legal issues regarding separation of church and state, but he decided to allow the trial to proceed.

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